Fire

Fire hope to avoid repeating recent mistake when hosting D.C. United

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USA TODAY

Fire hope to avoid repeating recent mistake when hosting D.C. United

Two weeks ago the Fire hosted Minnesota, which entered without a win on the road and with the lowest point total in Major League Soccer.

The Loons left Toyota Park with a win.

On Saturday, the Fire host another one of the worst teams in the standings in D.C. United. Like Minnesota, D.C. added some key players in the summer and has been playing better of late. The Fire will be hoping to avoid a similar mistake, especially with Atlanta closing the gap for third place after walloping Dallas and New England by a combined 10 goals in the first two games at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The Fire (13-9-6, 45 points) host D.C. (8-16-4, 28 points) on CSN+ (channel finder) with coverage beginning at 7 p.m. The Fire already beat United 1-0 at RFK Stadium on May 20, but midseason reinforcements have changed D.C.

“I don’t think it matters at this point,” midfielder Dax McCarty said about the previous win against D.C. “They’re a totally different team now, probably four or five new players in that are playing for them. I think they’ve gotten a lot of really good results lately. I think they’ve tightened up at the back. Defensively they’re a lot better.“

D.C. added U.S. national team player Paul Arriola, Hungarian Zoltan Stieber and Russell Canouse to its midfield in August. In the five games since Arriola’s arrival, United is 3-2, including a three-game winning streak that was snapped with a 2-1 home loss to Orlando last week.

“I know they’re coming off a poor result against Orlando, but before that they had won three games in a row and all by the same scoreline of 1-0 so that shows you that they’ve kind of got that defensive discipline that I think D.C. has kind of been known for the past couple years,” McCarty said. “They’re going to be hard to break down. They’re going to come in here and try to frustrate us and try to slow the game down… We’re coming off the positive performance (a 1-1 tie against the New York Red Bulls), now we just need to turn those performances into wins again.”

Both teams will be missing players due to injury. Former Fire winger Patrick Nyarko will not return to Toyota Park because he is out with a concussion. Defender Sean Franklin will also miss for D.C. due to yellow card accumulation.

Michael de Leeuw will miss the game for the Fire from yellow cards as well. Juninho will also be out due to a left knee injury.

Joao Meira could return from his calf injury. The Portuguese defender has been out for a month and was still limited in training this week, but was training with the group.

The bigger injury question is Bastian Schweinsteiger. The Fire’s German midfielder only stretched and jogged at training on Tuesday, but did begin kicking the ball on Wednesday. With Juninho already out, having Schweinsteiger return will be of more importance.

Regardless of who plays, Fire coach Veljko Paunovic preached urgency as a key factor with only six games remaining in the regular season.

“I think this point of the season, everyone sees every next game as a final and I think we’re going to have a very, very tough opponent, who did good summer signings and reinforced them so they had a good winning streak before the last game,” Paunovic said. “Obviously their confidence is better so it’s going to be for us, a tough, tough game, but the guys are ready and the guys are aware of the urgency.”

Chicago Fire vs. D.C. United

Where: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.

TV: CSN+ (channel finder)

When: Coverage begins at 7 p.m. on Saturday

Records: Fire (13-9-6, 45 points), D.C. (8-16-4, 28 points)

As Fire near playoffs, Bastian Schweinsteiger's immediate and long-term futures are in question

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USA TODAY

As Fire near playoffs, Bastian Schweinsteiger's immediate and long-term futures are in question

Bastian Schweinsteiger has delivered on the promise of a big name star since joining the Fire in late March. He has produced on the field, drawn lots of attention to the club, the team has won enough to get into its first postseason since 2012 and, until recently, he stayed healthy.

However, the 33-year-old German has played 19 minutes in the previous six matches and told reporters on Wednesday that he will not play in the regular season finale in Houston on Sunday. He missed four straight matches with a calf injury before returning against New York City FC on Sept. 30 for a substitute appearance.

Schweinsteiger left practice early with what appeared to be a reaggravation of the injury on Oct. 4 and now it is known that will cost him at least two games. With the playoff picture still in flux (the Fire can finish anywhere from second to fifth in the Eastern Conference), the Fire could potentially face a three-day turnaround and travel after the Houston game or could have a first-round bye. Keeping Schweinsteiger fresher for that crunch of games could end up being a good thing, but it also runs the risk of his match fitness not being at 100 percent for the postseason.

Beyond the postseason, Schweinsteiger dropped this tease of a nugget to the Daily Herald's Orrin Schwarz just an hour before Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez spoke with reporters for almost an hour at Toyota Park.

Schweinsteiger, who was not at training, was autographing memorabilia in the form of soccer balls, posters and jerseys. Chicago Red Stars fans may get a kick out of the fact that Schweinsteiger was wearing a Red Stars hoodie.

Initially, the club said Schweinsteiger signed a one-year contract with a mutual option. Later in the day, when asked about Schweinsteiger's future, Rodriguez said the mutual option doesn't have a set number attached to it.

"That would require a negotiation," Rodriguez said. "It was mutual in a sense of we didn’t want either party to feel bound without having had the year of experience to draw on. From our perspective, our experience has been extraordinarily positive with Bastian. We think he’s delivered across all of our expectations and we hope that we have delivered against his expectations.”

So in essence, there is no mutual option. Schweinsteiger and the Fire have to come to terms again on a deal for the German to return in 2018. That's not to say Schweinsteiger can't come back, but there's nothing in writing that binds the two together for next season.

Rodriguez said talks have only begun in the very preliminary stages at this point.

“The most that Basti and I have done is, both said, hey this has gone pretty well." Rodriguez said. "You like it. I like it... So I think we want to remain with our original plan. It was to look to have the hard discussions at the end of the season. My view is in-season negotiations always prove to be a distraction, whether to the player or to me. There can be a team element if it becomes public.

"I don’t want to speak for Basti, but from what we’ve gleaned and what he shared with us, he and (wife) Ana (Ivanovic) are very comfortable in the city. They love it. I think he’s really enjoyed the locker room, the guys, the support of the fans. I think he’s really taken to the challenge of Major League Soccer. I think the signs are positive, but again we would prefer to have the season close before finalizing anything.”

Special edition of the Fire Talk Podcast: What’s wrong with U.S. Soccer?

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AP

Special edition of the Fire Talk Podcast: What’s wrong with U.S. Soccer?

It's a special edition of the Fire Talk Podcast!

Dan Santaromita, Justin O’Neil, JJ Stankevitz and Tom Cooper try to answer all the questions that surfaced after the U.S. failed to qualify for the World Cup. What went wrong in qualifying, who was at fault, what can be fixed, will things get better? Has any American soccer fan calmed down even a week after? The four on the panel sure still are plenty fired up.